What is restorative yoga?

22nd August 2022

I have recently introduced a new style of class in Henfield: Restorative Yoga.

This was in response to requests to keep the Monday gentle yoga at the very gentle end of the spectrum. Restorative yoga differs from the more standard Hatha yoga that I teach in a number of ways:

  • Postures are generally supine – by this I mean that they are generally lying on the ground and very comfortable
  • Postures are fully supported – so rather than having to hold a pose through muscle power, you are instead supported by the ground or by props such as a bolster or yoga blocks. Even yoga straps are used but to support so you can lean into a posture rather than having to find the strength yourself to hold it
  • Everything slows down and we hold the postures far longer – ideally for at least 5 minutes but sometimes far longer. This is not hard physically because of the support you have
  • Once in the posture you are fully still and ideally silent – trying to relax and let go of ‘doing’ and instead experience ‘being’

Why do we do restorative yoga?

For many people the answer to this question is simply to relax. Restorative yoga is peaceful, soothing and grounding. It helps us release tension and literally to de-stress. Restorative postures help us regain a sense of equilibrium to our lives.

Central to this is the potential for the practice to downshift the nervous system. We move from ‘flight or fight’ to ‘rest and digest’ as the parasympathetic nervous system takes over from our day-to-day stress responses to life that manifest in anxiety, worry, broken sleep, negative thinking, unhealthy habits and more.

I like the reflection of the word ‘stress’ which derives from the Middle English word destresse which comes from the Latin word stringere meaning ‘to draw tight’. We are all familiar with that mental and even physical feeling of tightening when we experience stress. We experience distress and hold ourselves – both in body and mind – in a tightened manner. We start to feel out of balance, out of our normal equilibrium.

Restorative yoga uses body shapes and positions to both ease-out physically and mentally. It has the potential to help us de-stress achieving the following:

  • Calms and relaxes
  • Grounds
  • Centres
  • Stress relief and re-balancing
  • Rejuvenative, fatigue-relieving
  • Helps adjust perception and promote a more positive outlook
  • Helps with sleep
  • Releases tension – both physical and mental
  • Helps manage restlessness and anxiety
  • Improves and slows our breath
  • Supports the immune system
  • Enables us to spend time ‘being’ giving meaning to our lives and fully connecting with the self as well as others

What to expect in a restorative yoga class?

Because of the need for supported postures we use a lot of props in class. These may be bolster cushions, rolled up blankets, blocks and straps.

The first time I taught restorative yoga in Henfield I encouraged people to bring pillows with them as, at the time, not many had yoga bolsters. The room therefore resembled something of a sleepover – it is far from the slick, hardcore, super-bendy yoga you may have seen in the media. With a room full of soft props there was a sense of fun and laughter as people settled down – no one wants to feel apprehensive or scared of a class. And my classes are always very friendly without any cliques. The emphasis is to dial it all down but we certainly enter the room with hellos and chat. The arc of a class allows for settling and a gradual inward turn of the senses. By the end of a class the aim is to feel fully relaxed both physically but also relaxed from the usual chatter of the mind.

We’ll generally then start by sitting or lying on our mats either still and silent. A few gentle movements – for instance “windscreen wipers” with the knees when lying on the back help to  help release physical tension and begin the process of softening and opening. These gentle stretches help bring awareness to how the physical body is moving and feeling which then helps us bring that mental transition from outward to inward.

We will pay attention to our breathing. In yoga we try to breathe both in and out through the nose. We will focus on slowing the breath and focussing particularly on a slightly longer exhale. We may also draw our attention to the pause and the top and bottom of the in/exhale. The breath is not forced in restorative yoga – we are simply aware of it and gently work to soften and lengthen it as a path on the inward journey.

We will then take our first restorative posture which may be something like a supported ‘child’ pose bending over a bolster or perhaps a gentle twist lying on the back with the knees in the opposite direction to the head. We’ll hold each of these postures for several minutes and I normally play some calming music in the background.

We’ll then progress calmly to another posture and you will hopefully find yourself feeling more and more relaxed and grounded as the class progresses.

We spend the final five minutes in Savasana. This is where we lie on the back, perhaps with a bolster under the knees and the hands gently to the side. You may even have a blanket to cover you to help you feel warm and cosy.

We finish with thanks to ourselves and each other with an option to simply say “Namaste” (translates as ‘the divine in me recognises the divine in you’). I don’t bring a lot of spiritual content into my classes but Namaste said, on whatever level you want to connect with it is a nice closing.

Would you like to come to a restorative yoga class?

You would be very welcome to join my classes on a Monday at 5.30pm at Corpus Christie Catholic Church Hall in Henfield. The cost if £10 for a drop-in, less for a regular booking. Please let me know if you are coming either by emailing me (you can pre-book and bring £10 in cash) or book via the booking app (you want the Monday class for Restorative Yoga).

Wear comfortable clothes such as a t-shirt and leggings. In the winter please do wear multiple layers.

Men as well as women are very welcome.

Whilst I have spare yoga mats, blocks and straps I don’t have spare bolsters so please do bring with you a couple of pillows and ideally a blanket that can be rolled up.